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Production

The Magic Fundoshi

Company

W!ld Rice

Reviewer

Kenneth Kwok

Date

08/04/2006

Time

4.00pm

Place

The Drama Centre

Rating

****

Brief Encounter

In the programme, producer Ivan Heng writes about how much he enjoyed watching a classical Kyogen in Tokyo last year (Kyogen being traditional Japanese comedies about servants and masters, silly drunks and mismatched lovers performed for no other reason than to make an audience laugh). His enjoyment is understandable as Kyogen is a very powerful experience because all the energy onstage is being directed towards one single purpose: the audience's entertainment. Here, the audience is king and there is an almost perverse pleasure to be had in the way the cast endure all manner of humiliation for no other reason than to make you giggle, guffaw and chortle: the actors bare butt cheeks, sculpted chests and boobylicious bosoms, simulate naughty sex scenes onstage, and act in a manner so shamelessly over-the-top that you wonder if their jaws ache from all the scenery chewing.

But while it is very tempting merely to sit back, laugh, enjoy the show and go home again in a fit of giggles, it would be doing the company a disservice not to recognise how difficult it is to create a show that will admit such frivolity. The cast of Hossan Leong, Robin Goh, Koh Boon Pin and Jonathan Lim (not to forget Emma Yong in a small but unforgettable cameo as the famously nude and milk-white goddess Benten) should be applauded for their exuberant and high-octane performances - not just because they made us laugh (just the sight of them trussed up in kimonos was enough to have the audience in stitches from the first scene) but because of how skillfully they did so. The fact is that the three stories that compose the performance were nothing special. The script itself by Don Richie is deft and sharply-written with great potential for comedy but, as a text, it is crippled by the stock characters and repetitive, simplistic nature of the parables and folk tales upon which it is based. Yet the actors, with knowing glances to the audience or artfully raised eyebrows, made the good-natured slapstick and playful bawdiness in the script sparkle. The cast's own enthusiasm for the play was contagious because of the sheer energy, stage presence and lack of inhibitions that the cast brought to the presentation.

Koh was a particular delight as the lolling Lady Chibusa, who was too lazy even to be wooed and so sent her servant in her stead. As with Singapore's doyenne of divas, Kumar, Koh understands that sometimes to underplay an over-the-top character can draw even greater comedy. He spoke with a mannered drawl and unfurled on stage like a cat, creating a beautiful counterpoint to his frantic servant girl, played by Lim, whose performance didn't so much tickle you as wrestle you to the ground and hit you over the head with a funny stick. Goh was a little too earnest in places where camp was required and I felt that Leong took a while to get beyond the straitjacket of his kimono but both men also essentially managed to carry off their roles with the tongue-in-cheek aplomb needed.

Special mention must go to musician Philip Tan, whose whirlwind energy and rousing solo percussion work on the drums kept our spirits up between the three stories and who was himself a marvel to behold. I must also applaud the costumes by Moe Kasim, make-up by MAC Cosmetics and set design by Ivan Heng. It is sometimes easy to overlook these elements when watching a play but in this case there was no overlooking the three one-storey-tall gold penises that had been erected on the stage. And whereas in the recent film verson of Memoirs of a Geisha the luxurious kimonos and strikingly painted faces dwarfed the performances of the actors, here, such opulence brought colour and context without drowning out the performers or the stories.

Ultimately, the production worked because the company was not afraid simply to enjoy itself and be funny without any pretensions. This worked wonders for W!ld Rice's staging of Boeing Boeing and was again the key to success here.


"There is a perverse pleasure to be had in the way the cast endure all manner of humiliation for no other reason than to make you giggle"

Credits

Cast: Hossan Leong, Robin Goh, Jonathan Lim, Koh Boon Pin

Playwright: Donald Richie

Director: Glen Goei

Production / Scenic Design: Ivan Heng

Music: Philip Tan

Lighting Design: Yo Shao Ann

Costume Design: Moe Kasim

Hair and Wig Design: Ashley Lim

Make-up: MAC Cosmetics

More Reviews of Productions by W!ld Rice

More Reviews by Kenneth Kwok

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.